Public supports govt religious reforms, liberalization - survey

On issues surrounding kashrut, conversion, and ultra-Orthodox education, the majority of the Jewish public support liberalization of the former and a tougher stance on the latter.

The Jerusalem Post/September 1, 2021

By Jeremy Sharon

Public opinion in Israel appears to support the various reforms proposed by the government to religious life and the state’s interaction with the ultra-Orthodox sector, in light of polling on these issues published on Wednesday in the Hiddush organization’s 2021 Israel Religion and State Index.

On issues surrounding kashrut, conversion and haredi education, the majority of the Jewish public, including Likud voters, support liberalization of the former and a tougher stance on the latter.

The survey was conducted by the Smith Institute for Hiddush in July 2021 on a sample of 800 adults from the Jewish population with a sampling error of 3.5%.

One of the principle reforms advanced by the government is to the provision of kashrut supervision, in which the Chief Rabbinate will lose its monopoly over the market and instead become a regulator of independent kashrut supervision organizations.

The ultra-Orthodox parties and the Chief Rabbinate have denounced the reforms as “the destruction of kashrut in Israel” and the undermining of the Chief Rabbinate and religious life.

But according to the Hiddush poll, only 22% responded that they would only eat in restaurants with kashrut certificates from the Chief Rabbinate, while 25% would be satisfied with alternative kashrut certification such as that of the Tzohar religious-Zionist rabbinical association, or ultra-Orthodox authorities.

Another 53% do not take kashrut certification into account whatsoever when choosing where to eat and what food to buy.

Even among the 41% of the public that said they strictly observe kashrut according to Jewish law, only 47% responded that they consume only food under the supervision of the Chief Rabbinate.

Another proposed reform by the current government is to decentralize control over Jewish conversion, to allow municipal chief rabbis, all of whom must have qualifications from the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate, to establish their own conversion courts.

Although Hiddush did not poll specifically on this reform, its index did find that 65% of the Jewish public thinks that recognition for civil purposes of an individual convert’s Jewish status does not need to be dependent on converting in an Orthodox process.

Of those polled, 35% said immigrants with a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother, someone who Jewish law determines to be non-Jewish, should be recognized as Jewish if they identify as such, even without religious conversion.

Another 30% said that any religious conversion common among world Jewry, whether it be Orthodox, Conservative or Reform, would be acceptable to them to confer Jewish status in Israel.

Ony 35% said civil recognition as Jews should only be afforded if the individual converted in an Orthodox process.

And 75% of respondents asserted that state-funded ultra-Orthodox schools should be required to teach core curricular studies, and that should they refuse, their funding should be cut.

Yisrael Beytenu leader and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman made this promise numerous times during recent election campaigns, although legislation is yet to be advanced on the topic.

Only 25% of the public was of the opinion that core curricular studies should not be required of ultra-Orthodox schools, and that parents should be allowed to select an education for their children without core curricular studies, without jeopardizing the funding they receive from the state coffers.

Another important finding found that some 11% of the respondents said they identify as non-Orthodox; 6% said they identified as Reform and 5% as Conservative.

A further 19% said they were Zionist Orthodox, 2% said they were stringent religious-Zionist, and 11% ultra-Orthodox.

Fully 57% said they had no religious affiliation.

Some 61% of respondents said they support equal status in Israel for the three major Jewish denominations: Orthodox, Conservative and Reform.

It is supported by the majority of voters for all coalition parties, except for Yamina voters, who are divided on the issue with 48% of them supporting equal status for the non-Orthodox denominations.

Some 57% of Likud voters in the March 21 elections also expressed support for equal status.

“The Index and a comparison of its data over the last ten years prove that the Israeli public is fed up with the ‘status quo’ on religious issues, which belies the worn-out rhetoric of many politicians regarding Israel’s ‘traditional, religiously inclined majority,’” said Hiddush US Chairman Stanley P. Gold and CEO Rabbi Uri Regev.

“They misrepresent the truth and mislead Jewish leadership, claiming that most Israeli Jews wish to maintain the state’s religious coercion in matters of Shabbat, marriage, kashrut, ‘Who is a Jew’ and more. The compelling and consistent Index data refute this self-serving distortion of the truth. The public supports religious pluralism and prefers a broad, civil coalition, which does not submit to the dictates of the ultra-Orthodox parties, as shown by the many surveys we and others have conducted over the past few years and during the recent election cycles.”

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